Poker is probably the most popular of all card games in existence, thanks in part to an exciting format, huge sums of money that is regularly on offer, and the swings and roundabouts that come with a game with an element of luck. Even with an element of luck, playing winning poker takes a good amount of skill and some time to master. This guide will take you through some of the basics poker rules and also more generally, how to play poker.
First of all, let’s consider what the objectives of poker are in a game of poker. The objective of most is to win money. To do that, players would need to eithermake it to showdown with the best 5 card hand OR force everyone else out of the hand, thus winning the pot. Most games are played against the same standard ranking of hands however, there are a few variants that use slight variations to this standard. For this article we will focus on Texas Hold’em mainly as it’s the most popular game and a good place to start out as a new player.
It’s known as a community card game for the reason that there are shared cards that are used by all players, when trying to make their best 5 card hand. In short, each player will get two private cards, dealt face down, better known as hole cards. These cards are only seen by the player they are dealt to. Throughout the game there will be a number of betting rounds and 5 community or shared cards that will be dealt. These cards are dealt face up. Players will try to make the best 5 card hand using any combination of the 7 available cards to them (2 private cards and 5 shared cards). This same principle applies across all poker games.
Something that makes the game really unique is that a player doesn’t have to have the best hand to win. Imagine you’ve got ten people and gave them one card each and told them to race up a hill. The person who got up there would be first, automatically winning. If there was a tie, the two players would hold up the card they were given and the highest card would win. Poker is similar in principle. The player who stays in the hand all the way and has the best hand would take down the pot. If there is only one person who makes it up the hill or who stays in the hand, they would be the winner, regardless of the card or hand they held. So if only one made it to the top of the hill, he would win, no matter his hand.
Structure of the Game
Ok, let’s look at how the game is actually played. When starting a game, it’s normal for each player to be dealt a card. The highest card gets the dealer button or button. The button acts as an indicator as to who is dealt cards first, and also who posts the blinds. The blinds are automatic bets that are made to ensure each pot has some money to play for (or there would be no incentive to play anything but the top hands). The blinds consist of two automatic bets, the small blind, posted by the player to the immediate left of the button, and the big blind, the player two seats to the left of the button. The small blind is usually half of the value of the big blind. Once these bets are posted, all players are dealt 2 cards face down.
Players will now need to decide whether to play the hand or not, starting with the player to the left of the big blind (or 3 left of the dealer button). This would, in large, be down to the two cards the player has been dealt (although there are other factors which I will cover separately). A player has the choice to call, fold or raise. Here are definitions for each action:
Fold– to throw your cards into the muck and take no further part in the hand. By doing so, you lose your stake in the pot.
Call– to match the highest bet made so far. If the highest bet is the big blind, then that must be matched to stay in the hand. If a player raises, all other players will need to ‘call the raise’ or match it, to stay in the hand.
Raise– this would be a bet that would be more than the big blind and a sign of strength (a good hand). If a player was to raise and all other players folded, he will win the pot by default, regardless of the strength of his hand.
So play moves clockwise around the table until all players have either called, raised or folded.
Once all players have completed this initial betting round, the first three community or shared cards are dealt. These are dealt face up on the table. The first 3 cards dealt in Hold’em are known as ‘the flop’. All shared cards that are dealt are known as board cards or referred to as ‘the board’. At this stage, players will be trying to assemble their best 5 card hand from the 2 in their hand and the 3 on the board. Some players might already have made their hand and others might need cards, still to come, to make their hand. Either way, with 2 shared cards still to come, players will have a good indication as to the strength of their holding and their chances of hitting one of the cards they may need.
A second betting round now takes place and again players, moving clockwise, have the choice to fold their cards, call or raise. Once this betting round is complete, a fourth community card is dealt face up, otherwise known as ‘the turn’, ‘the turn card’ or ‘fourth street’. There is then a third betting round with all remaining players and then a fifth and final card (known as ‘fifth street’ or the ‘river card’) is dealt to the board, again face up (all shared cards are dealt face up). There is one final found of betting, conducted in the same manner as the previous rounds, and then the showdown.
During each betting round, it is usual for some players to fold their hand, either as the betting is too much for the strength of hand they have, or they fail to hit their cards needed to make a strong hand. At showdown, any player left in the hand would turn over their hole cards to reveal their hand. The best 5 card poker hand wins the pot (which would be a collection of blinds and all bets).
Key additional Points
– If all players fold, leaving one player in the hand, the hand ends there and the remaining player wins the hand.
– If a player is all in (.i.e. has bet all his available chips, he would only be able to win the same amount that had been wagered from each player in the hand). If players who had more than the all-in player continued to bet, a side pot would be formed.
– If two players have the same hand at showdown, the winner is determined by the best kicker. For instance if player 1 has the hand A-A-2-3-4 and player 2 had A-A-2-3-8, both players would have a pair of aces but player 2 would have the next highest card, the 8 (compared with player 1 who’s next highest is a 4). Ace is the highest kicker possible.